How Refilwe Sebothoma went from full-time employee to entrepreneur


So you are thinking of becoming your own boss? I personally recommend trying to sell something that you and your friends would purchase in a heartbeat. You’ll know more about your field, you’ll understand your customers, and you’ll be passionate about what you execute. And to survive the next step, you need a whole lot of inspiration. That inspiration will carry you through what Que Lebatha calls "many lows in our interviews."

This is the same sentiment that is shared by Refilwe Sebothoma, the MD of PBM Creations below. PBM Creations was started in 2014 and is a dynamic 100% woman-owned business which sells premium, personal protective equipment to the mining sector. She also provides branded merchandise for specific events, such as runs/walks, rallies, etc.  Some of PBM clients are Shell Downstream SA, Marley Building Systems, Nampak Bevcan and MES. The company currently employs 16 staff members. In this interview, Refilwe shares the challenges she faced as a business owner.

Please share your story. How did you move from the corporate world into being a business owner? How did that process unravel?

I was born and raised in a mining village called Wonderkop, now popularly known as Marikana. Although I came to Joburg to further my studies and career, I've always wanted to go back and work for the mines. The last two years of my corporate career, I worked for one of the platinum mines in
Marikana. I became more aware and cognizant of the issues of protective clothing in a workplace, and that was a seed for my business venture 😊. So it wasn’t easy, but it was so worth.

After that, PBM Creations was born. Establishing a new business is very challenging especially because our industry is very specific. Clients prefer to deal with their longtime suppliers. They are not easily persuaded to move over to a new entrant without any experience and it is still known to be “a man’s world."My husband and I had to make a lot of sacrifices, and we downgraded our lifestyle.We lost the only secured income we had because he is also a businessman. So it wasn’t easy, but it was so worth.

What were your fears about making the leap from a full-time job with a steady income and benefits to running your own business?

I think the biggest fear for me was “what if it doesn’t work”, but soon I started asking myself…
"what if it actually works." That liberated me! I also wanted to be in a position to help, build and support women from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.  My full-time employment was never going to give me this opportunity. So I guess in the end, it was the right thing to just jump and swim.

What is your experience so far as an entrepreneur?

A business relationship is fundamental! It’s important to establish relationships and nurture them. As the old saying goes… “we build bridges and not break them." I had to learn how to take care of money. Cashflow is the backbone of every business. Maintain your integrity and remain trustworthy. The business world becomes too small too quick! Build systems and a formidable team. Someone said, "work on the business and be the business.”
What advice would you give to women who want to start a business?

It critical to take time to study the market and industry you want to get into. This helps one to have a bigger picture and know how to position yourself as a player in the industry. Do a lot of research, clients surveys and industry surveys. We cannot build a business on assumptions, just because our family and friends like our idea it doesn’t mean it will work in the real world. Engage with target markets and let them help you solidify your business idea. Don’t be too much in a hurry! Give your business time to grow. Business is not an overnight success we all want it to be. It takes time to build a sustainable business.
If you need her services, get in touch via email: Refilwe@pbm-sa.co.za.

She is also on social media:  Twitter and Facebook.

As an entrepreneur, your personal life and business life are interconnected. You are likely to be your first--and possibly only--investor. Therefore, having a detailed understanding of your personal finances, and the ability to track them, is an essential first step before seeking outside funding for your business.

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